So yesterday was my first day of classes at Catholic University of America and I was observing the state of our youth, so to speak. Cute, nubile freshman boys and girls were bouncing around completely clueless on campus, eager to please and thirsty for something to happen. But of course, since they picked a church affiliated university, you and I know that they’re going to have to find some action on the down-lo around here. God love them Catholics though…some of my most subversive and downright yummy-dirty moments have been thanks to their tutelage.
But I do feel it’s part of my karmic retribution payment plan to offer these doe-eyed babes some assistance in discovering what part of the college experience is all about…and since I’m married, I can’t go with my first choice of taking some green-eyed, tossled-hair young laddie into my private lecture hall and making him earn some extra credit of the carnal knowledge kind, I’ll settle for bestowing upon them the other thing I do really well: making music mixes.
Now, I know for many of you college freshmen, you’ve been spoon-fed such lame music acts like the Jonas Brothers, Rihanna, or most anyone from the American Idol syncophant machinery and think you listen to good music. You’re wrong. Sorry to be harsh, but it’s true. Hey, in my day the music industry was pushing shit like Flock of Seagulls and Millie Vanilli, so don’t feel too bad.
This was the unfortunate inspiration for lots of…
This at my high school.
Michael Shilling, the music reporter from MSN.com, gave his choices for you (in fact, I swiped this concept from him, thanks Mike) – and he’s certainly dead-on with mentions like Death Cab for Cutie, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, and Sleater-Kinney, but I think I could contribute some more towards your musical education:
10. The Cure
Even though The Cure has been around since the late seventies (believe it or not) they’re best known for their sonorous goth-pop stylings throughout the eighties and early nineties. They’re still making music today, gearing up to release Hypnagogic States this fall, but I’d recommend you start with the album, Boys Don’t Cry, then jump to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me – and then move onto their tour de force, Disintegration – which South Park is famous for being quoted as saying “is the best album ever!” It’s still true.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because few bands could pull off both electronic pop whimsy and earnest self-importance quite like The Cure. These guys were Emo before Emo existed, but frankly, they did it with a heck of a lot more sophistation and talent than what I see today. And they still have a sense of humor to top it all off. So put that in your lesson planner 😉
I recently wrote a review of Beck’s latest, Modern Guilt , where I waxed on and on about the virtues of Beck to our musical canon. I’ll leave it to you to click on the link so I don’t repeat myself 🙂 except for this…
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: As I’ve previously stated : ” His tongue-and-cheek arrangements have always seemed to tip their hats to other musical genres such as 60s psychedelic, hip-hop, indie rock (on and on) while still creating something – dare I say – genuinely original in flavor and sound.” Kids, that’s a rarity in and of itself. So go listen to Mellow Gold, Odelay, Sea Change, Guero – well, all of them.
8. The Decemberists
Ok, by now, you’ve got some more musical meat in your belly, and you’re ready for something more. The Decemberists are an indie folk rock group from Portland, Oregon, known for their clever lyrics steeped in world history and modern fiction. Actually, on second hand, maybe you should wait until you’re a junior or senior in college in order for you to get half the references in this group’s songs. It gets a bit “out there” at times, but totally worth it. If I could create a new genre for them, I’d coin The Decemberists’ music experimental intelligencia folk rock. Too much?
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because this group is part of a cadre of bands bringing the benefits of a liberal arts education to good use, otherwise known as ‘Lit Rock’. They’re smart and funny and MADE for the college rock scene. I guarantee sooner or later, you’ll be up all night, drinking cheap wine with the pretty boy or girl, who is pouring their heart out to you about how they’re sooo misunderstood…then you’ll play a couple of Decemberists’ songs from your iPod dock station (followed by Marvin Gaye or Barry White if you want to get laid) and in the words of Emeril LaGasse – BAM! Works almost everytime…
7. Tie Between Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley
It would be so easy to lump these two artists together on the singular issue of their untimely deaths. And perhaps it’s true that we, as music lovers, worship our fallen princes when this immortal coil is cut before their time. But you know you’re dealing with an important artist when each generation discovers them anew, and feels as if they’ve found the Holy Grail. Everyone I love to hang with all count these guys in their top ten of favorite artists, because they’re exceptional songwriters of their times and beyond.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because albums such as From a Basement on a Hill (Smith) and Grace (Buckley) remain timeless classics, and they’re like the Harvard University of songwriting. To use a culinary reference, they’re both like the New American cuisine of the music industry…taking tried-and-true comfort food and pushing the flavor profile beyond its original confinement, yet still remaining recognizable and appreciated. That’s the best way I can explain it.
6. Zero 7
Please accept my most sincere apology for not giving Zero 7 the write up they so aptly deserve sooner. Hailing from the UK, Zero are a downtempo styled, electronic pop duo comprising Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker. The band’s songs feature vocals from Mozez, Sia Furler, Tina Dico, Sophie Barker, José González, and for the first time, Henry Binns providing backing vocals on the third album, The Garden. There are many rumors about how the band got their name. The main yarn stems from a nightclub the duo visited in Honduras called ‘Zero’ which played only seven songs. Another rumor is that their name came from a nightclub they visited in Mexico, named Zero Siete.
In any event, buy all three of their albums and listen to them in order. And yes, they get better and better with each listen.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because they’re just great, that’s why.
5. The 60s Trinity: Jimi, Janis, and Jim
In the beginning, the music and the drugs were meant to serve as conduits towards higher consciousness. And for a while, it seemed to work for these three. While there are many other artists who are an integral part of the free-lovin’ 60s hippie movement, Jimi, Janis, and Jim wrote and performed some of the most original and powerful music ever created for the 60s and otherwise.
Unfortunately, each of them eerily died at twenty-seven years old and never knew when enough’s enough.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because no one played a guitar like Jimi Hendrix (even Clapton was intimidated by him), no one sang the blues like Janis Joplin (except maybe Bessie Smith), and no one tapped into the darkness of the collective unconsciousness with his performances and lyrical arrangements better than Jim Morisson.
4. John Coltrane and Miles Davis
You kids are probably still too young to fully crawl into and appreciate jazz. Heck, I didn’t have my great awakening until my thirties, so I get it. However, I throw these guys down on the list for two reasons: (1) You should at least have heard of these guys. Nothing’s more annoying to your elders (ahem) than to mention an iconic figure of the 20th century and to have you little lambs just stare at us blankly and ask such nonsense like “who are The Beatles?” So, now you’ve heard of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. (2) I have a kernel of faith in my soul that there’s a few cool kids out there who are ready for jazz. Consider this your grad school.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because these two (and others) change the direction of jazz – considered the only genuinely American musical art form, BTW. These guys steered jazz away from the catchy, b-bop, World War II/Dixie land bubble gum stuff towards a deeper, more introspective, and extemporaneous expression of not only the post-war and segregation African-American experience, but of the inherent ecstacy and turbulence for all of us during the mid-century (well, not me so much, I wasn’t born until disco was king, but you get my long-winded point).
3. 70s and 80s Punk: The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Black Flag, etc., etc…
Personal confession time: I’m not a big fan of punk rock. There’s a few songs here and there from Black Flag, The Clash, and The Ramones that I like, but otherwise, no. I don’t listen to this stuff regularly by any means. Born out of the UK and New York’s underground music scene, punk reflected a larger-scaled fury from the people too poor and overworked to enjoy the decandent spoils of 60s hippy-rock and 70s disco. Characters like Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten yelled and spat and pissed on their audiences, but you got their point. Not much immediately came of all of it, but it was certainly expressive nonetheless.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because you don’t have to like it in order to appreciate the punk movement, and understand that all the rage and disdain for authority that’s part of this genre served as a backdrop for my Generation X’s irreverent atttitude towards the status quo. Plus, where do the young um’s think bands like Green Day and Good Charlotte (gag) got their mojo from, hmm?
Let’s get this other stuff out of the way first. Yes, U2 is about as mainstream and commercial as they get these days. And you know what? Who the fuck cares – why? Because they are one of the only bands in the history of music that I can think of that has continuously produced excellent music and has harnessed its popularity and appeal to sincerely change the world for the better.
Starting off as a quasi-Christian-inspired scruff outfit from Ireland, their early stuff from albums such as War was pure-hearted protest music. They’re cleaned up and moved on since then, more apt to sing about the revolutions within our relationships than in Northern Ireland, but they got smart about it. Instead of just singing – and inevitably capitalizing – on other’s suffering and doing little, these guys keep the preaching at a minimum and are fighting global poverty as real power brokers. For me, Bono is like the Christ of rock-n-roll, and I love worshipping at his concerts – which are still some of the best live shows I’ve seen.
Why are They Important For Your Musical Education: Because they prove better than anyone I can think of that music and activism can save us all.
Why you? Because in the end, rock-n-roll should be about what speaks to you, what serves as the personal soundtrack in your mental mix tape. And of course, there’s nothing more rock-n-roll than to tell your predecessors to kiss off. So I’ll take the hint and leave it up to you 😉